OK, let’s for a second skip past Argentina’s miraculous rescue from the list that follows. A quick look at who’s been eliminated so far offers few surprises, but the lists of potential eliminations includes a more than a few surprising names.
OUT FOR SURE
Poland: Not a huge surprise, but they were expected to top the group along with the Czech Republic. When the dust settles neither team might make it. The elimination from the last World Cup’s first round by Ecuador showed that this team is not really a first- or second-tier power in Europe.
Wales: Only the British press can possibly bemoan this. Despite having an excellent coach in John Toshack and a couple of good players, there’s not nearly enough quality here.
Turkey: The 2002 World Cup was full or mirages, unreal results from teams who were never that good to begin with. South Korea was the biggest surprise, but Turkey finishing third gave everyone raised expectations. A good performance in the Euros shows that this team is very streaky and their streak ran cold indeed in the qualifiers.
Belgium: From the same group as Turkey. Neither one of these two teams was going to challenge for top stop in the group against Spain, but they’ve pretty much been steamrolled by Bosnia-Herzegovina. Belgium missed the last World Cup and unless they find some young talent soon, will likely miss the next one too.
Romania: Oh, how the supposedly mighty have fallen. Lest you forget, Romania was a seeded team in the 2002 World Cup Finals. Where have you gone Gheorghe Hagi? Here’s a team that could use some foreign influence in coaching. Even Victor Piturca couldn’t qualify them this time. 9 points in 9 matches? Ouch. The only reason they’re not last in Group 7 is called “Faroe Islands”.
Bulgaria: They’ve just been eliminated for good after falling 4-1 … to Cyprus. I know the Cypriots are much better than they used to be, but come on, that’s a blowout. Guess we won’t be seeing Dimitar Berbatov in South Africa. That silence is the sound of no one caring.
Saudi Arabia and Iran: Either team can point to Australia’s inclusion into the Asian qualifiers as the reason for missing out. Give the two Koreas and Japan some credit though, they’re clearly the class of this conferederation and deserved their spots. Having seen Bahrain fail to score at home versus New Zealand, I was less than impressed. Surely the Saudis were good enough to get past that team into the playoffs? I suppose in the long run it doesn’t matter since none of these teams would’ve had much of an impact. Personally, I would love to see New Zealand qualify and be included in the Asian qualifiers for the next World Cup.
Togo: After their showing in the last World Cup, you knew this was coming. I don’t think anyone expected them to return to the Finals, even with Emmanuel Adebayor in form.
Colombia: It seems such a long time since we saw Colombia’s golden generation shocking everyone in the world by trouncing Argentina at home and the shocking the world again with the murder of Andrés Escobar. Despite having talent in the team, they’ve been surpassed by Ecuador and now Venezuela, two sister nations who were once the lowest in the South American totem pole. They have the wherewithal to get the job done, but it’s anybody’s guess whether we’ll see it between now and 2014.
MATHEMATICALLY NOT OUT (BUT IN REALITY, OUT)
Sweden: Zlatan, say it aint’ so! Here’s another forward (like Berbatov) that many people won’t actually miss at the World Cup. Still, Sweden has always had good runs in the Cup and are always a dangerous team with good talent. It’s the luck of the draw and the Danish defence that did them in, although a poor start didn’t help.
Czech Republic: A big surprise here, and losing out to Slovakia will make it hurt even more. The Czechs could still technically make it to the playoffs, but it goes to show how good Slovakia and Slovenia have been that the Czechs could be eliminated having only lost two games.
Croatia: So much for the English boogeymen. Not only could they not repeat their feat of beating Englang, but Ukraine looks set to trump them to the playoff spot. I wonder if Slaven Bilic will continue to be seen so positively as a coach in the Premier League after this? Let’s face it though, Ukraine was helped by facing England when they had already qualified.
Scotland: Why does it seem that all Scottish attempts in international football seem to be described by the phrase “brave, but ultimately futile”. There are some quality players here, but not nearly enough to make a difference, and the personality issues between management and certain players doomed this effort from the start.
Nigeria: Only a desperate late goal against Mozambique is keeping their hopes alive. It will all be moot if Tunisia can defeat Mozambique in the next round, as expected. Topping Tunisia was a tall order anyway, and either team missing out of the finals is surprising. Again, the luck of the draw had much to do with this one.